Let me put my Linguistics degree to good use and list some of my favourite Dutch words.

1. Waterkoker.  English: kettle. Think about it: "water cooker". Great, love it.

2. Stofzuiger. Vacuum cleaner. This one is not quite so obvious, but when you hear it, you get it. It's a "stuff sucker".

3.  Eikenboom: Oak tree. This one is interesting, rather than funny. It is pronounced as "Aik en bome". ("Aik" as in "Jake", you can see why linguists have their own alphabet for describing how words sound). Boom just means tree and "-en" is plural. So  "Oak" is in Dutch "Aik" to try to render the pronunciation phonetically. Doesn't sound very similar to the English word. However, in English, we call the nut of this tree an "acorn". So the name for the tree shifted its vowel, but English and Dutch have kept the same vowel for the nut. This really brings home the connection between the Germanic languages.



Our expensive Philips kettle gave up the ghost. I was really pleased to find a €10 replacement. It has auto-shutoff, a mesh filter, a base-station (meaning the kettle can be moved around unencumbered by the power cord) and it is easy to clean and descale. These were the key functions of the previous kettle which was six times more expensive. Of course, the new kettle is made in China.  It is branded by a local trader, and comes with clear instructions in several local languages.

In Europe, there is still disquiet about the rise of Chinese manufacturing and the "shift" or "loss" of jobs. And at first glance, I have to admit that it can seem that "everything" is coming from China. So I will attempt a quick guide to why I think my €10 kettle is a good thing.

Private equity: vultures, locusts, plundering Anglo-saxons. Private equity buyers buy weak companies, squeeze costs, people and manage hard for cash, and after a few years they sell, making a huge killing and move on to the next victim.

So the story goes, at least so I've heard. It's pretty easy to see some logical problems with these attacks.  Firstly, the new owners buy the company from its existing owners in a free exchange; the sellers sell because it's a better deal than they can get elsewhere. You can only oppose this if you want to interfere with rights of shareholders in choosing who they sell to.

Secondly, the private equity buyer only makes the infamous "huge killing" if it can transform the company into something worth a lot more. Vultures pick the meat off dead animals. Private equity firms buy a run down house, paying above market prices , fix it up nicely, and sell it again. They put down a little of their own money, but borrow the rest, which is just how most people buy houses. Private-equity buyers tend to target companies where they see a renovation opportunity, so the new management makes a lot of changes. Change creates winners and losers. More winners than losers, but there are losers.

One of the most visited articles on my site is Robert Manne's essay about the Stolen Generation.  My website is a pretty trivial and poorly maintained accumulation of geekiness and my generally Classical Liberal point of view, so this article stands out. I'm about as mainstream as you could imagine, and I think the treatment of the indigenous people of Australia is a terrible injustice. "Terrible injustice": this phrase is weak from overuse; that's some indication of how horrible it was. The tragedy of the stolen children and destroyed families is yesterday's horror; the nightmare that lingers in my mind is that ordinary Australians were convinced they were doing the right thing. The cumulative actions of right-thinking decent folk lead to this monstrosity. This is very challenging for me, an ordinary person. It makes me wonder what ordinary things I am doing today that will seem so wrong to my children. 

So I was pleased about the promise of an apology , pleased that it was made the first act of the new government, and pleased that the prime minister only barely kept to his promise that this was an apology from the Government, not from the people. John Howard was a competent prime minister but there was a streak of nastiness that surfaced more than once, and I hope we don't forget that. As an Australian living overseas, the new government makes me feel prouder to be an Austarlian than for a long time. I have some insight into how my American friends may feel if they also get an exciting young leader come November 2008. 


In defence of Singlish

An anti-Singlish editorial in the Straits Time (May 2, 2000) was yet another attack by a Singapore opinion leader, but the issue needs a less reactionary approach. Firstly, like nearly all official campaigns against language issues, there will be little to show for the money spent.